By Lindy McDaniel
Trying to harmonize the concepts of “law” and “grace” has been a difficult task for Bible students for hundreds of years. The difficulty primarily centers on the writings of Paul, and especially as students grapple with the problem of harmonizing Paul’s writings with those of James. Paul wrote: “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law” (Rom. 3:28). However, James said: “You see that a man is justified by works, and not by faith alone” (James 2:24). Some have concluded that salvation by God’s grace excludes obedience. Others maintain that one must obey God in order to be saved.
It is a dangerous practice to attempt to interpret some of the difficult writings of Paul apart from other scripture that hear on the same subjects. Peter warns: “Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless, and regard the patience of our Lord to be salvation; just as also our beloved Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote, to you, as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction. You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, be on your guard lest, being carried away by the error of unprincipled men, you fall from your own steadfastness” (2 Pet. 3:14-17). Paul’s writings have been perverted, resulting in great harm.
Salvation By Grace
Paul taught that salvation is by grace and not by works of law. He wrote: “Now to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteous” (Rom. 4:4-5). Again, “For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under’ law, but under grace. What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? May it never be! ” (Rom. 6:14-15). “But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace” (Rom. 11:6). “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast” (Eph. 2:8-9).
Salvation By Works
Salvation is also attributed to works in the following passages: “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him” (John 3:36). “And the word of God kept on spreading; and the number of the disciples continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith” (Acts 6:7). Paul even emphasizes obedience in his great epistle on salvation by grace through faith written to the Romans: “. . . through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles, for His name’s sake” (Rom. 1:5). “For the report of your obedience has reached to all; therefore I am rejoicing over you, but I want you to be wise in what is good, and innocent in what is evil…. but now is manifested, and by the Scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the eternal God, has been made known to all the nations, leading to obedience of faith” (Rom. 16:19,26). Evidently, Paul had no trouble reconciling “faith” and “obedience.” Also study carefully James 2:14-26, 2 Cor. 10:5; Gal. 5:7; Gal. 6:4; Phil. 2:12-13; 2 Thess. 1:6-8; 1 Tim. 6:17-19; 2 Thess. 3:14-15, etc.
Not Under Law
Paul wrote that the Christians in Rome were not under law, but under grace” (Rom. 6:14). Does this mean that Christians are not under any law whatsoever, or that obedience has nothing to do with justification?
Paul wrote much about “the law” or “law” and it is important to understand that he almost always had in mind the “law of Moses.” John wrote: “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ” (John 1: 17). Those addressed by Paul were familiar with the “law of Moses,” but they did not have access to all of the New Testament writings, which contain “the faith” revealed through Christ. The great controversy of apostolic days was whether or not the “law of Moses” was to be bound upon the Gentiles in order for them to be saved (see Acts 15:1, 6-11; Gal. 2:16-2 1; 3:1-3; 5:14). It is quite obvious that Christians are not under the Law of Moses; but this does not mean that Christians are without Law.
Furthermore, we are not under any law system that demands perfect obedience in order to be saved. The Mosaical Code was that kind of law system. Paul wrote: “For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse; for it is written, ‘cursed is every one who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law, to perform them.’ Now that no one is justified by the law before God is evident; for, the righteous man shall live by faith.’ However, the Law is not of faith; on the contrary, ‘he who practices them shall live by them!’ Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us-for it is written, I cursed is every one who hangs on a tree’ ” (Gal. 3: 1013). Law condemns every man who has sinned, and all men are convicted as lawbreakers; but Jesus Christ has delivered us from the curse of the law.
Even though Christians are not under the Mosaical Code, or any law system that demands human perfection, we are under law to Jesus Christ. Paul wrote: “And to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the Law, though not being myself under the Law, that I might win those who are under the Law; to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, that I might win those who are under the Law” G Cor. 9:20-21). Paul, even though lie was a Jew, did not consider himself to be tinder the law of Moses, but he was under law to Christ. Paul brought himself under the first, not as being necessary to salvation, but as a custom. However, he was bound by the law of Christ, which is also called “the law of liberty” (James 1:25).
The scriptures teach that all men are tinder the rule of Jesus Christ. Jesus said: “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth” (Matt. 28:18). Paul wrote of Jesus Christ: “And He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation. For in Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities-all things have been created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together” (Col. 1: 15-17). “. . . who is at the right hand of God, having gone into heaven, after angels and authorities and powers had been subjected to him” (1 Pet. 3:22). The whole world is under the authority of Jesus Christ.
If grace has released us from the obligation of law, as some contend, then it would be impossible for a Christian to sin, for “where there is no law, neither is there violation” (Rom. 4:15). “Every one who practices sin also practices lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness” (I John 3:4); but there can be no lawlessness unless there is a law. But all men have been pronounced guilty before God (Rom. 3:23), and besides all of this, even Christians do sin: “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” Christians are not free from law. But they are free from the curse of the law through Jesus Christ. If and when they sin, they may gain forgiveness through the blood and advocacy of Jesus Christ (see 1 John 1:7-10; 2:1-2).
Law And Justification
Some argue, “Yes, the Christian is under law, but he is not under law as a basis of justification.” In answer to this, let us first realize that the principal foundation of justification before God is “Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.” God’s grace, and our justification, centers on Jesus Christ, the son of God (see 2 Cor. 5:19; 6: 1; 8:9; Heb. 10: 5-7; 10:10, 14, etc.). This fundamental fact being understood, the important question is simply this: “Must a person obey God in order to be justified by the blood of -Jesus?” To this question, I emphatically say, “Yes!” That obedience to Christ is essential to salvation is abundantly clear in scripture. Peter writes: “Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart” (1 Pet. 1:22). See also Mark 16:16, Acts 2:38; Acts 22:16; Rom. 6:17-18; etc.)
If a person is not under law as a condition of salvation, then his violation of law would not affect his salvation; yet the scriptures teach that the “lawless” and “ungodly” cannot inherit eternal life. “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus” (Tit. 2.11-13). “Outside are the dogs and the sorcerers and the immoral persons and the murderers and the idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices lying” (Rev. 22:15).
A Christian may be “overtaken in a trespass” and need to be restored (Gal. 6: 1), or he may so sin as to lose his inheritance in Jesus Christ (Gal. 5:4; Heb. 6:4-8; Heb. 10:26-31; 2 Pet. 2:19-22). Thus, obedience has a direct bearing on our relationship with Jesus Christ. No, the Christian is not “free” from law.
Again, God will judge us according to our deeds done in the body. “And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds” (Rev. 20:12). Read also Rom. 2:5-16; 2 Thess. 1:6-8; and I Peter 4:17.
Faith And Obedience
Again, it is argued, “The Bible teaches that we are justified by faith apart from works of the law” (see Rom. 3-28; Rom. 4:4-5; Eph. 2-89; Tit. 3:5-7, etc.). The “works” under consideration by Paul in these passages are those works which are meritorious in nature. By doing such works, a man may be said to have earned salvation. Since all have sinned (Rom. 3:23) and continue to commit acts of sin 0 John 1:8), earning justification is rendered impossible. Justification is a gift and cannot be earned by human effort (Rom. 11:6). From these facts, some have foolishly concluded that it is not necessary to obey God in order to receive justification; but nothing could be further from the truth.
“Faith And Obedience”
The gifts of God, although never earned by human effort, are frequently conditioned upon human effort. God healed Naaman, the Syrian Commander, of leprosy; but before this was accomplished, Naaman had to dip seven times in the river Jordan (see 2 Kings 5:10-14). God gave Jericho into the hands of the Israelites, but it was required that they march around the walls a total of 13 times as prescribed by God (see Josh. 6). God gives us food and raiment; but these “good gifts” are not obtained apart from human effort. Apart from God’s grace, Naaman could not have been healed of leprosy; the Israelites could not have captured Jericho, and we could not be fed and clothed. These are simple but powerful illustrations of the grace of God. Do not be deceived into thinking that, free gifts” cannot be conditioned upon human effort.
Salvation can be compared to a drowning man who is rescued. His small boat capsizes and sinks, and he is left helpless in the water unable to swim. A rescue boat approaches and a rope is thrown out to him. He grabs the rope and is pulled out of the water into the boat. He has been saved by the rescue men. Yet it was necessary for him to grab hold of the rope. Are you willing to “grab hold of the rope,” or do you foolishly think that God is going to do it all for you?
Our justification is conditioned upon faith. Human works of merit are centered on man, whereas faith is centered on God. Faith is the ground of our complete confidence in the unseen realm based upon the testimony of God (2 Cor. 5:7; Heb. 11:1-2; Rom. 10:17). Faith is expressed in obedience to God (Heb. 11: 4, 7, 8, 17, 24, 27; James 2:14-28). Thus, the Christian “walks by faith” (2 Cor. 5:7).
Again, it is protested, “Justification is based upon faith alone, and not obedience!” “Of course,” they reason, “faith always produces good works.” This is like trying to separate cause and effect or the tree from its fruits. Such distinctions have resulted in much confusion. Faith is perfected through works (James 2:22). The tree is always known by its fruits (Matt. 7:26). How can a man know that he has faith unless he is willing to do what Christ commands? Faith apart from works is dead (James 2:26).
Those who emphasize the necessity of “faith” while denying the necessity of “obedience” are making a serious mistake. Faith apart from works has no more power to save than works apart from faith. Inward perfection is no more possible than outward perfection. The concepts of salvation by “faith only” and salvation by “works only” are both “legalistic” in that attention is centered upon man himself. But genuine faith is centered upon God. This kind of faith does not question God’s grace, purposes, or plan of human redemption. It is a trusting and obedient faith. It never argues around God’s law; it seeks only to obey it. What kind of faith do you have?
Some preachers among us are beginning to accept “denominational” concepts of “grace” and “love.” They are teaching that justification is conditioned upon faith apart from obedience to the laws of Jesus Christ. They admit that baptism is included in the “principle of faith” as a condition of salvation; but they deny that “observing all things whatsoever the Lord has commanded” is embraced by the principle. It is said that obedience to Christ inevitably flows from faith, but it is faith itself that saves. With the exception of baptism being included in the principle of faith, this is what many “denominations” have been teaching for hundreds of years. Are we ready for this?
TRUTH MAGAZINE XVII: 24, pp.5-8
April 19, 1973